In Santa Rosa de Copan I was as sick as a man could be. For three days
my life consisted of periodically tumbling out of bed, hugging the cold tile
floor face down until I got my strength up, crawling on my hands and knees
eight feet to a toilet where the unthinkable transpired, and after several
dizzying minutes regaining my strength, crawling back to the bed on my
hands and knees, where, once again thoroughly drained and drenched in
sweat, I paused face down on the tile, before beginning the exhausting
process of pulling myself back in amongst the tangled, sweaty sheets. I
slept day and night, delirious, curled up in a ball, covered in sweat,
alternating between chills and burning high fever. On the last night of this
adventure I came out of my trance for a moment with two vague figures
towering over me in the dark. I wondered how they’d gotten into my room
and didn’t care all in the same instant. If something horrible was about to
happen—if, say, these two were there to kill me—I was ready; I would
welcome it, they’d be doing me a favor. Instead, one of them, the female,
leaned over, took me by the jaw, forced my head around to face her, and
said in English, “Can you see me?”
“Can you hear me?”
“There will be a truck leaving from the bus station at 4:30 AM, and you will
be on it. Do you understand what I just said?”
“Where is the bus station?” I asked in a whisper.
She told me, and then they departed.
At 4 AM there was a loud demanding knock on my door and I pulled myself
up and gathered my few things and stumbled out the door. The guy
sleeping behind the counter downstairs lifted his head and pointed when I
asked in my best broken Spanish, “Where is the bus station?” When he
pointed a second time with great emphasis, I went outside and started
walking in that general direction.
That ride in the back of that truck was the worst trip I’ve ever had in my life.
The potholes in the mountains of Honduras are large enough to swallow a
large dog; the drivers are insane—enjoying nothing more than coming as
close to the cliff edge as possible—and completely unsympathetic. If you
are sick—and I was very very very sick—these drivers will not stop so that
you might purge yourself. I was so sick that I honestly wished the driver
WOULD just drive the damned truck over the cliff edge and get it over with.
But, he didn’t. He just kept driving. And he did not stop… and he did not
stop…and he did not stop. It was like riding on a bucking bronco. On that
truck you either held it or laid in it until the truck reached its destination.
Even though I was phasing in and out of consciousness, the trip was
absolutely endless, and long before we reached our destination I had a
very good idea of what Hell must be like. During that trip I looked back with
fondness upon my days of delirium and degradation in a windowless hotel
room in Santa Rosa, Copan.
When we arrived, four long hours later, I was jostled awake and told to get
out. I did. I was still a bit delirious; still sick as a dog. When I looked around
something became instantly clear to me. I was unquestionably the biggest,
tallest, palest, sickest and lostest person in all of Honduras.
After finding a thoroughly disgusting public bathroom to take care of myself
I stood around near the bus station for almost an hour before the two
women with whom I had been traveling showed up. When they arrived, they
were clean and healthy, bright and cheerful, fresh as daisies—completely
shameless in their loveliness—looking as if they’d spent their trip nestled
deeply in the plush velvet back seat cushions of a Rolls Royce. They were
chattering away in flawless Spanish as if they’d been sipping champagne all
along the merry way. Life is but a dream. After another two hour wait,
during which they yammered unceasingly about the pyramids they’d visited
in Copan, we got on a bus headed toward San Marcos. It was the town
nearest Mesa Grande, the United Nations refugee camp for Salvadorans
escaping the completely unnecessary and extremely bloody war in El
Salvador. That’s where we were heading, the refugee camp at Mesa
The bus was packed with farmers on their way to who knows where. Some
of them held chickens in their laps. One woman had a small goat on a
string. Almost every one of them held a cardboard box or a string bag or a
cage or a bundle of some sort clutched in their arms. Outside, suitcases
and tarps and cages, and livestock in small pens were strapped to the
front, the sides, the back, the top and the underside of that bus.
Once we got underway people started talking amiably amongst themselves
and the women I was traveling with joined right in, chatting with the locals in
an elevated form of their native tongue. Before long they were all old
friends. Me, I sat and looked out the window for the most part, still groggy,
semiconscious, but only slightly sick. Periodically the bus would pass
through an almost non-existent little gathering of tiny houses and we’d stop
there to be surrounded with people eagerly, desperately trying to sell their
crops; a variety of things to eat wrapped in tin foil and paper and corn
husks, fresh fruit, fruit drinks, Coca-Cola or Pepsi (some towns were
dedicated to one, some to the other). After days of having nothing in my
stomach, I thought it was time to give it a try again and purchased a mango
during one of these stops.
I noticed along the way that people would eat their purchases and then just
toss the remains out of the window. So, in an effort to show that I was one
of the crowd, just another human being, when I was finished with my mango
I took aim and threw that big slimy seed as hard as I could. Unfortunately,
that big slimy seed did not make it through the window. It ricocheted off the
metal frame of the glass and flew around the inside of the bus, across the
aisle and hit some poor woman in the back of the head. This did not have
the winning effect I was after; by this act I won over no new friends. People
were turning around in their seats to look at the gringo who thought he was
so superior that he could just casually chuck his mango seed down the
aisle. It was at that point I think that the women I was traveling with made a
point of pretending that they did not know me.
During this trip, from time to time, for no apparent reason, the bus would
arrive at a roadblock and Honduran soldiers would come on board and
make as much as they could of their slow walk through the bus, staring
sternly at people, selecting someone at random and demanding their
papers. The soldiers would then spend an inordinate amount of time
looking the papers over with magnificent disdain, before tossing them back,
with grand indifference, into the lap of the poor trembling suspect. I saw this
acted out so many times that it became theatre. During these stops they
always took one or two frightened people off the bus, for no reason that
any of us could determine. These people went like sheep—frightened
sheep, but sheep nonetheless—and when we pulled away without them,
nobody on that bus, including family, friends, neighbors, myself, turned
their heads to look back. What’s peculiar is that these soldiers never asked
either the women I was traveling with or myself for papers. It was as if we
didn’t exist; it was as if they didn’t even see us. I felt fairly secure because I
was traveling with United Nations credentials, but it was frightening
nonetheless whenever the bus was flagged down and the soldiers came
aboard. It was theatre, but chilling theatre.
After what must have been several hours of travel, we came to a different
kind of check point. It wasn’t just an armed man in uniform stepping out in
front of the bus and signaling for it to stop; this time there was a striped
wooden barrier stretched across the road with a little hut beside it. It was
like something out of a movie.
This time the soldiers came aboard as usual and looked down the aisle as
usual, but, instead of making the slow walk down, demanding papers, they
saw us, turned, and quickly left the bus.
I watched them as they went into the hut. And I watched as someone of
superior bearing, presumably of superior position, stepped back outside
with them. There was some pointing, and the soldiers were given
instructions, and this time when they entered the bus they marched quickly
right down the aisle, directly to us.
They demanded to see our papers. We each handed them our credentials,
but they didn’t even look at them.
“Where are you going?” the soldier demanded coldly of one of the women,
handing back her papers.
“San Marcos,” she said hesitantly.
“And where are you going?” he asked the other.
“San Marcos,” she stuttered.
“And you,” he said, handing my UN credentials back to me, “where are you
“San Marcos,” I said.
And then that man uttered the most chilling words I had ever heard spoken.
“This IS San Marcos,” he said.